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Doreen Lawrence: 'Race matters to all of us'

SPEECH: Lawrence commended Birmingham University for opening the new race and education centre

DOREEN LAWRENCE, mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, has praised the University of Birmingham for taking "a bold and necessary" step to open a unique Centre for Research in Race & Education in a climate where race is no longer on the political agenda.

Lawrence was speaking as she formally launched the centre which aims to pursue race equality and social justice by working to close the gaps in educational achievement between black and white students.

“We want a society in which we can live safely and freely irrespective of the colour of our skin,” she said, speaking at the centre’s formal opening.

“We want a society in which success and choice are not merely limited to the few but are available to all. A society where the Old Boys’ Network – in other words a network which is male, wealthy and white – no longer automatically leads across the professions and our Parliament.

“Choice and equality must extend beyond the boundaries of class, gender and race. We do not currently live in such a society.”

Speaking within weeks of the 20th anniversary of her son’s killing, she added: “Race matters. It matters to all of us. Crucially when we talk about race, we are not just talking about the experiences of black and minority ethnic groups. We are also talking about the experiences of white groups. Yet this is something that we, as a society, seldom acknowledge or discuss.

“Talking about race is fraught with challenges. Just talking about race makes some people angry. Others deny that race has anything to do with them. They say they don’t see race, that good intentions and commonsense are enough. They are not.”

Professor David Gillborn, director of the new centre, which will play a leading role in its field, both nationally and internationally, said: “There is a widespread assumption that racism is no longer an issue in education, but across the board in experiences and outcomes in primary, secondary and higher education, there remain significant ethnic inequalities.

“Race is no longer on the political agenda in the way it was. Despite the lessons of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, too many people still assume that racism relates only to the behaviour of a few obvious bigots: but research consistently shows how racism can operate in subtle ways, even when people have the best intentions.”

Dr Nicola Rollock, who is a deputy director of the centre, along with colleague Paul Warmington, added: “Race and racism are often seen as being only about issues of Far Right extremism or the random rant of someone on a train.

“In fact race and racism shape the lives of many Black and minority ethnic groups. Working closely with our partners, the centre will provide a space for debate and high quality research aimed at improving the outcomes and experiences for these groups and ultimately helping to address inequalities in our society.”

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